Opponents speak out against Missouri Heights subdivision
Opponents of the proposed Hunt Ranch subdivision in Missouri Heights objected to everything from the project’s possible density to the potential for light pollution and the effect on area water resources.The critics spoke out at a meeting Thursday in the historic Missouri Heights Community Center. But others, while perhaps not exactly in favor of the proposed development, indicated some gratitude that the developers were open to the idea of working with the neighbors. And preserving at least some of the property for agricultural use and natural open space, rather then putting in a golf course, and limiting the use of fences to carve up what historically has been a medium-sized ranch also were mentioned as positives.The developers, AMS Development Inc. of Vail, have a contract to buy the 565-acre ranch from owner Dick Hunt, who listed the land for $8.7 million, according to Michele Kister of Mason & Morse Real Estate, one of the land brokers working on the deal.The developers say they want to build up to 94 homes on lots ranging from two acres to 10 acres, with much of the property preserved as open space and used as pasture for cattle. They also plan on building an “equestrian center” for use by the project’s landowners only.The land lies in Garfield County, and partner Greg Amsden said the plan is now in its conceptual stage, meaning nothing has been submitted to the county for formal review. The plan is for lots to sell at prices ranging from about $200,000 to slightly more than $500,000, according to Amsden.Based on Thursday’s presentation, the developers believe their project would be compatible with neighboring developments, including King’s Row with lots of two acres and larger, and Panorama Ranches, where the lots are five acres and up. The told the assembled group of about 25 area residents that the project will use about 45 percent of the land for homes, about 51 percent for open space and about 4 percent for roads and other common improvements.Practically speaking, said planner John McCarty of OTAK, the local planning firm working with AMS Development, about 10 percent of the land area, about 60 acres, will actually be “disturbed” by construction.McCarty showed photos taken from various locations around the Hunt Ranch, to illustrate how the homes would be situated to avoid disrupting the views of neighbors. But at least one neighbor, homeowner Sue Edmonds, complained that the pictures did not accurately represent the view from her house, implying that the views would, in fact, be disrupted.”I’m not going to present that you’re not going to see buildings here,” replied McCarty, but he said the building envelopes would be placed so as to minimize the homes’ visibility from neighboring windows.More than one neighbor expressed concern about the project’s impact on the area’s water resources. One man recalled a time several years ago during “the heart of the drought,” when thirsty cows were escaping from fenced ranch lands and went marauding through neighboring residential areas. The developers assured the residents that they had sufficient water rights to meet the project’s needs without hurting the region’s water supply.When pressed by some neighbors to change the lots to all 10-acres apiece, thereby reducing the density, Amsden said flatly that “the economics don’t work at 10-acre lots. … it’s not going to happen.”At the urging of neighboring landowner Davis Farrar, McCarty and the development team agreed to go back to the drawing board and consider using a “planned unit development” application process.Among other benefits, Farrar told the group, a PUD might permit the developers to configure the placement of homes, and the arrangement of open space, trails and pasture lands in a way that might increase the feeling of preserving open ranch land.Farrar also expressed concern about light pollution from the project, asking the developers to avoid the use of street lights, security lights and interior lighting that might radiate out into the night skies.It was toward the end of the discussion that Edmonds told the developers, “I find all of this offensive. I fine 94 houses offensive.”She said there is a finite number of people who can live in Missouri Heights, given water availability and other issues, and declared that she and others feel development of the Hunt Ranch project would mean the “carrying capacity of the land” would be exceeded because “the ecosystem is not going to support it.”Maybe you are about to pay too much for that ranch,” she added, declaring that she and the group she belongs to, the Missouri Heights Well Users Alliance, “will fight you on this development at every step of the way.”But another neighbor, Becky Stirling, a developer of the nearby Stirling Ranch subdivision, noted that AMS Development at least was holding meetings, and commented, “We need to use this arena … to work with a positive development plan.”Rob Tobias, also a member of the Alliance, was not at the meeting but noted that the group has hired attorneys Jody Edwards and Kevin Patrick to help them in their battle.”The group is interested in seeing responsible growth,” he said, and in preventing developers who have exhausted the potential of the Eagle Valley from “exporting that type of land use here into our valley.” The comparatively less stringent development restrictions along the I-70 corridor in Eagle County, in the views of many area residents, have yielded a much higher density of growth, and a greater feeling of suburban and industrial sprawl, than exists in the Roaring Fork Valley.”I think a lot of people should be concerned,” said Tobias, noting that while the AMS team of developers put considerable emphasis on the relatively high density of King’s Row and Panorama Ranch, “those projects were put in place 25 or 30 years ago. Thinking is a little bit different now.”
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